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Searching for the Lost Chimpanzees of Kyambura Gorge

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After getting stuck twice and pushing the truck out, we arrived at the rim of the gorge an hour and half later than expected. This was foreshadowing for the hike to come. Unlike our treks to golden monkeys and mountain gorillas, Uganda’s larger eco-tourism efforts, chimp trekking is different.

With gorillas, dozens of trackers head into the park at sunrise to search out the group and radio their location to the guides before clients arrive. For this chimp trek, we were the trackers, going into the gorge nearly blind.

We followed our tracker single file, descending a steep, slick trail into the gorge, holding onto branches for stability. He carried a rifle over his shoulder, in case of closer encounters with hippo or elephant, but reassured us that he had rarely needed it. Chimps travel on ground when searching for food, but spend most of their time in the trees, safe from predators. When it floods, they rarely come down.

African village as seen through the back of a Land Rover
Andy Cochrane

Last Piece of the Puzzle

After two hours of hiking through deep mud, thick jungle, and murky water, we hadn’t heard a single call. Suffice to say, hope was fading. We had spotted more than a dozen hippos and at least as many birds, but no chimps. I started to wonder if this was Africa’s version of a wild goose chase.

In the end, despite hearing the chimps a handful of times, we never actually saw them, likely because of the flooding. A little disappointed, I walked back to the truck in silence, wondering if the trip was worth it. But in our failed search was an important lesson: These are wild animals fighting to survive. And with very few left, they can’t take chances, especially with the river raging and food being scarce.

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